British prime minister David Cameron arrived today in Islamabad with high security for his first visit to Pakistan since taking office in May 2010, and said the U.K. and Pakistan have agreed to try doubling bilateral trade, while calling the bond between the two countries "unbreakable" (Tel, Guardian, AP, AFP, The News, Dawn, Guardian, ET). Cameron sparked a diplomatic row several months ago when he said Pakistan should not be allowed to "look both ways" when it comes to terrorism. Cameron also said the "time is now ripe" for India and Pakistan to improve their relationship (AP).
Dawn reports that between 20 and "slightly less than 100" U.S. military personnel in Pakistan have been prevented from leaving the country because of "expired visas and other document irregularities" (Dawn). Dawn also writes that the ‘Taliban’ have offered to mediate tensions between Lashkar-e-Islam leader Mangal Bagh and the Zakhakhel tribe, which has been advancing in Bagh-held territory in Khyber (Dawn). Pakistani intelligence sources tell the Express Tribune that the Haqqani network may be grooming a new operational leader, Badaruddin, and other militant groups in the tribal areas are reportedly splitting up into smaller cells to increase the odds of surviving counterterrorism operations (ET). And three coal miners were killed in two separate mines in Baluchistan (The News). Bonus AfPak Channel read: ignoring Baluchistan.
Amid conflicting versions of what happened from NATO and U.N. officials, the U.N. is investigating why nearby German forces did not arrive at the U.N. compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, where three U.N. staff members and four Nepalese security guards were killed on Friday by an angry mob protesting the burning of a Quran in Florida, until long after the deaths (WSJ). The Post reports that U.S. and Western officials believe Karzai’s condemnation of the Quran burning several days after it happened drew attention to an event that had largely gone unnoticed inside the country, and Karzai has continued to call for the prosecution and condemnation of the pastor responsible (Post). Bonus AfPak Channel read: Terry Jones burned the Quran, but Karzai fanned the flames.
The Taliban have relented on a two week old ban on mobile telephone companies operating in Helmand province, which they imposed on the grounds that the signals help international forces track militant movements, because fighters in the field repeatedly requested mobile service to help coordinate attacks (Reuters). Afghan officials say an overnight raid in Sar-i-Pul killed five civilians, while NATO officials assert that the dead were all militants (Pajhwok).
Speculation is underway about personnel shifts in the Obama administration as top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus is expected to rotate out of that position this year; government sources tell NPR he is being seriously considered for the top job at the CIA, and would take the offer if it came (NPR). Current CIA director Leon Panetta is reportedly seen as the leading candidate to replace Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when he steps down later this year. And a U.S. Army probe into Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV, the brigade commander of five soldiers accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport, reportedly "concluded that he should have been relieved of duty for poor performance," but found no "causal relationship" between the killings and his "aggressive leadership style" (Post).
All downhill from here
The Pakistani Army has recently organized a four-day amateur skiing tournament in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley, which was under the control of the Taliban, led by Maulana Fazlullah, before a military offensive in 2009 (AFP). The Malam Jabba resort is some 8,600 feet above sea level, and the only ski slope is 1,200 yards long.